Author’s Note: I was looking to pull a part of The Memory Collector to prove that I was writing too much of a certain type of protagonist in my science fiction stories, that type being ones like Whim, Tynan, and the Collector, but when I went looking for one, either it was too spoilery or not quite enough like the others to share (though the Collector doesn’t have a name until the fourth chapter, which is a lot like the cases of the others, that cannot be denied.) Instead, I drug out this.
For a collector, he’d never been particularly good at controlling what he was supposed to be looking for, not that it mattered. No one could see what he did, and even those that thought they could conceal their crimes quickly confessed in his presence. Sometimes it took longer for that to happen, sometimes he did still have to search for the specific memory, but the reputation was usually enough. It was a fortunate thing. He had never truly mastered control over it.
This time, of course, was no different.
He walked around the room a little. It was not his, and he was not truly there, but he always liked to get a sense of where he was before he pressed on further. He knew that he was not in the right place—this was a small home, not from one of the cities, with rudimentary construction, hastily assembled with a lack of permanence—scavenged from the wilderness around it. The tree branches were stacked against each other and covered with reeds. It would not stand up to any kind of weather.
“I seem to be more lost than usual.”
“I would say so,” a voice said from behind him, and he turned to look at the one who had spoken. It was very rare for anyone in the memories to be aware of his presence, and even then, it was usually just a fleeting moment where they seemed to notice something had changed, looked for him, but did not see him. That this woman had heard him and responded—impossible. “No one comes here on purpose. You must be lost.”
He nodded. He had to stop interacting with her. She was not like any other person he’d encountered in his time in the memories—not in appearance, for in that she was fairly common, with no distinguishing features. She was not extremely tall or very short, just somewhere in between, and her eyes were the standard black of their people, the same with her hair. She wore it simply, with no ornamentation except the section braided and held behind her ears on either side of her head. Her garments were not finely made or expensive, but practical and yet… untouched, as though at odds with the simplicity she wanted to convey.
A manifestation of the planet, then, was she? He had heard some of the collectors rave about the goddess when they lost their minds, but he did not think that she was real. Not everyone saw her—only the ones that believed in her to begin with. Most of society had given up belief in a higher power long ago—the memories showed no sign of one that had ever been a part of their daily lives, and this goddess was worshiped only by a small sect that had started following a former minister who had been just as insane, proclaiming herself the goddess reborn when there wasn’t one to begin with.
“Where did you mean to go?”
“The past. The creation of the laws,” he answered, and she frowned. He should have not expected anything different. She was not real. This was probably not any true memory. It was a sign that his mind was failing faster than he had thought.
“You are in the wrong place—they make laws in the capitals, far from here,” she went on, shaking her head. “I would like to see the other cities, though I have no interest in the laws. Why do you care so much?”
“Don’t you already know?”
She frowned. “Why should I? I do not know who you are.”
He shook his head. This was not the way to find the laws. He did not have much time. He was clearly close to that final step, and he would finish what he started, even if he did not feel that they should get anything from him. They had condemned him to this before he was even born, and that was unforgivable.
“You could take that as a sign to give me your name, and I can send you in the right direction if you want. I know there is a city two days journey in that direction.”
“It wouldn’t matter if I gave you my name. This never happened.”
“You are a very strange man,” she said, turning away from him. He watched her for a moment, then forced himself to reach into the memories again. He could not be far from where he should be, and it was time to move on, to find what he needed before he was completely gone.
He thought he had hold of the tendrils again, but nothing changed. He frowned, then saw her hand was on his arm. “Strange or not, I could use some help gathering up supplies. Since you’re here, you could help me.”
He stared at her hand, shaking his head. He shouldn’t be able to feel that. It was all wrong. He yanked himself free, and then the forest was gone and the walls were white again. He sat for a moment, trying to process what he’d seen and experienced. This wasn’t possible.
He ran his hands over his face. His mind was already gone, wasn’t it?